UCLA rallies to beat Villanova, gets ready for Gonzaga

November is usually a month reserved for some great college football, but last Friday night a Final Four type of game was played on the UCLA campus. In an early season matchup of two top five teams, the No. 2 ranked UCLA Bruins came from behind to defeat the No. 4 ranked Villanova Wildcats in overtime, 86-77, in a nationally televised game at Pauley Pavilion.

This was not your typical early season college basketball game. ESPN Stats & Info reported that this was the earliest season matchup by date of two AP top five teams at a campus site in the history of the AP Basketball Poll, which began in 1948. A crowd of 13,659 loud and raucous fans brought an energy that was very unusual for an early November college basketball game.

Villanova retuned four starters to their 2021 roster, and they have one of the top head basketball coaches in America in Jay Wright. The Wildcats won the national championship under Wright in 2016 and again in 2018. Defensively, they are a mirror image of the Bruins, tough and physical.

The Bruins jumped to a quick nine-point lead at 17-8 behind two three pointers by guard David Singleton. With the Bruins leading by nine at the ten-minute mark of the first half, the Wildcats went on a 22-8 run to take a 30-25 lead with 2:10 remaining in the first half. The Bruins went on their own run in the last two minutes of the first half, with forward Johnny Juzang knocking down a jumper with two seconds left to give the Bruins a 32-30 halftime lead.

Both teams came out firing in the second half, but the Wildcats eventually got the lead and stretched it out to ten points, 60-50 with 9:24 left in the game. The Bruins were reeling. As Bruin head coach Mick Cronin stated, "There was no way we were going to catch them. We were on pace to give up 80. That's what I told them at the under four-minute timeout. We've been in these games. They have too, though."

The Bruins defense stiffened and held the Wildcats to seven points for the rest of regulation, which allowed the Bruins offense to score enough to catch the Wildcats at 67-67 at the end of regulation time. The Wildcats missed their final six shots, with some key defensive plays coming from Jaylen Clark. Jules Bernard banked in a jumper that tied the game at 67 with 30 seconds to go to force overtime.

In overtime, behind the energy of the crowd, the Bruins took over. With the score tied at 69-69, a blocked shot by center Myles Johnson led to a Juzang jump shot to give the Bruins the lead for good. That was followed up by a three-point shot from forward Jaime Jaquez off a nice pass from point guard Tyger Campbell, giving the Bruins a 74-69 lead.

The Bruins were led in scoring by last year's NCAA tournament star Juzang, who had 25 points and 8 rebounds. Jaquez added 21 points and led the Bruins in rebounding with 13. Bernard had 16 points and nine rebounds and Campbell, who had several clutch plays late in the game, added 14 points and four assists.

Juzang, Jaquez, and Campbell all made the All-Pac-12 team last season. Of the fifteen players that made the All-pac-12 team last season, they are the only three that returned to their teams. Which is one of the strengths of this Bruin team, both in conference and nationally.

Jaquez was asked about the team's confidence and mental toughness in winning these close games. "It just comes from the personalities on this team," said Jaquez. "I know that myself, Johnny and Tyger, we live for that the crowd. We live for these big moments, and it just feeds us. It feeds our fuel. When you need someone to make a great shot, we've got guys who are there to make those. So, I think it's just something that we all have inside of us."

At the end of the game, Cronin turned and pointed to the crowd. "I was just thanking the students that came," said Cronin. "College basketball is all about the pageantry. It's great that it's back and I appreciate all the donors, but the students are the ones that bring the excitement. They stand. They go nuts the whole game. I just try to continue and thank them and engage with our student body."

Cronin continued, "There were about 2,000 students – and I don't know if you know this – outside all day. I was passing donuts. Martin (Athletic Director Jarmond), Josh (Senior Associate Athletic Director Rebholz) were passing pizzas." The students were camped out overnight in the hope of getting tickets for the game.

The atmosphere was electric at Pauley. There were dozens of celebrities at the game. Right before the start of the game, boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer walked out in a white tuxedo jacket, grabbed a microphone, and shouted, "Let's get ready to rumble!" At the end of the game, the fans were chanting, "We want Gonzaga" and Randy Newman's song, "I Love LA," was blaring throughout the arena. With young and old dancing in celebration, the atmosphere was reminiscent of a Laker playoff game from the 1980's.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the No.1 ranked college basketball team in America, and the Bruins will indeed get a shot at them on November 23rd in Las Vegas. The game will be played at the T-Mobile Arena and will be televised nationally on ESPN, starting at 7:00 PM PST. The Bruins will get an opportunity for some revenge for their heartbreaking loss to the Bulldogs in the Final Four last spring.

The Bulldogs have two of the top big men in the country in All-American Drew Timme and freshman star Chet Holmgren, who was the No. 1 ranked high school player in the country. The Bruins hope to have starting center Cody Riley back for this game. Riley missed the Villanova game with a knee sprain.


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